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Airlifts and airstrikes continue

August 14, 2014

Germany has announced it would airlift goods to people stranded in the Sinjar mountains, while US President Barack Obama has pledged to continue airstrikes against IS militants in Iraq.

Jesiden auf der Flucht in Nordirak 10.08.2014
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Germany plans to send aid to northern Iraq on Friday, according to national media reports. Four German Transall military aircraft are set to take off for Erbil, carrying 36 tons of food and supplies to UN organizations for further distribution, the dpa news agency reported on Thursday.

On Tuesday, amid talks to increase European aid to Iraq, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen announced Berlin would support Iraq's army in its efforts to fight the Islamic State (IS) terror group by delivering non-lethal military aid such as armored vehicles, helmets, night-vision equipment, booby-trap detectors and medical supplies.

Discussion is ongoing whether Germany - which has a policy of not delivering weapons to war zones - should supply Kurdish fighters, Peshmerga, with arms to fight for the survival of the Yazidi minority.

UN declares 'highest level of emergency'

The UN has declared the highest level of emergency for the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. According to the Pentagon, however, far fewer Yazidis are stranded on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq than first thought.

The "Level 3 Emergency" has resulted in variousWestern governments vowing to increase the amount of goods, funds and assets being supplied to the thousands of displaced members of Iraq's minority Christian and Yazidi communities.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have been driven out of their homes as the IS group and its Sunni militant allies continue to advance through much of north and west Iraq, leaving the country facing its worst crisis since US troops withdrew in 2011.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) previously reported that tens of thousands of Yazidis had fled the Islamic State group's onslaught in order to seek refuge in the Sinjar mountain range. However, an American assessment team found "far fewer" Yazidis stranded on Mount Sinjar than first expected, with continued access to food and water from air drops.

The UNHCR said that some 80,000 Yezidis had escaped from the mountain in the last five days. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Thursday the number of those on Sinjar Mountain was "in the neighborhood of 4,000," adding that around half were local residents.

The US has now delivered a total of 114,000 meals and almost 160,000 liters of drinking water.

Addressing the press on Thursday, US President Barack Obama said a major rescue operation now seemed unlikely.

"We helped save many innocent lives. Because of these efforts, we do not expect there to be an additional operation to evacuate people off the mountain and it's unlikely we're going to need to continue humanitarian air drops on the mountain," Obama said.

A spokeswoman for the UK government on Downing Street said on Thursday Britain was "currently reviewing the need for additional airdrops, given that there appear to be adequate supplies on the mountain, but we will keep the option open if we establish there is further need," news agency AFP reported. Britain has sent seven airdrops so far.

Violence continues

While the outlook has improved for the minority Yazidi, it has not improved for the country as a whole. Fighting in the western, militant-held city of Fallujah killed four children, along with ten militants, news agency AP quoted the city's hospital director Ahmed Shami as saying on Thursday.

The city has been in IS control since January.

"The situation remains dire for Iraqis subject to ISIL's terror throughout the country," Obama told the press and pledged to carrying out airstrikes against IS terrorists.

"The bottom line is - the situation on the mountain has greatly improved," Obama told the press, adding that the US would "continue air strikes to protect our people and facilities in Iraq."

According to the International Organization for Migration, more than half a million Iraqis have fled their homes since the Islamic State group began their offensive in June.

sb/kb (AP, AFP, Reuters)